In terms of the current population, the U.K government estimates that 17% of us (9.5 million people) reside in rural areas. The rural areas of the U.K are dominated by agriculture, with 149,000 farm businesses currently in operation. This is a vital industry that employs over 4 million people and contributes more than £120 billion to the U.K economy. Moreover, British farming ensures a degree of national self-sufficiency in terms of food production – something that has always been important due to shifts in political landscapes, and increasingly dramatic climate change.
For these reasons, protection of the agricultural industry is essential – not least because the very nature of the work makes it a target for crime. In the autumn of 2020, NFU Mutual released its annual Rural Crime Report, featuring data based on insurance claims made during 2019. The report found that, overall, there had been a 9% increase in rural crime, in comparison to the previous year. Rural crime, while encompassing all types of offences committed in general rural areas, specifically includes agricultural crime, with the rise in rural crime highlighting an upward trend in offences committed against those working in agriculture.
What is agricultural crime?
Agricultural crime is the term used for offences committed against working farms. Such crimes can include:
- Theft – Agricultural theft can involve machinery, animals, shoplifting from farm shop premises, or anything else related to the activity of a working farm. Each theft – regardless of size – carries significant financial repercussions for the farm business involved.
- Fly tipping – The dumping of rubbish and unwanted items on working farmland is a significant issue for the industry. In addition to the cost involved of clearing the items, it also impedes access for farm activities, and can potentially damage crops and livestock.
- Property damage – Vandalism of farm buildings can be costly to farm businesses, in terms of both repair and working time lost.
- Crop damage – For working farms, crops can represent both important produce for sale, and feed for livestock – so crop damage is a costly crime. Crop damage can be caused by malicious criminal activity and also inadvertently, by those using public access footpaths for walking and exercising dogs.
- Sabotage – Purposeful sabotage of farming operations can include damage to machinery, and damage to access points on farmland. Both are costly to rectify. In addition to the financial implications of repair, working time is also lost.
- Land disputes – The unique family-based structure of much of the farming industry, along with issues such as public access footpaths and the flow of natural watercourses, can create land disputes that give rise to criminal actions intended to disrupt operations, cause financial hardship, and intimidate. Such actions can include theft, fly tipping, sabotage, and damage to property and crops, as well as verbal threats and physical altercations.
Agricultural crimes are especially heinous because of the nature of working farms. Not only are they a functioning business, supporting the livelihoods of many people, they are often also family homes. Up to 90% of U.K farms are registered as sole traders or family partnerships, with 65% of farm businesses incorporating additional commercial interests, including accommodation, shopping outlets, and event venues. These factors make working farms vulnerable to criminal activity in multiple ways.
The complexities of agricultural crime
The nature of working farms means that there are complexities to agricultural crime that are specific to that industry, in the same way that urban crime is influenced by factors specific to more residential landscapes.
- Location and configuration
While city farms do operate, most working farms are located in rural landscape by necessity and are therefore relatively secluded. Their configuration also creates vulnerability, with fields and vegetation ensuring that constant, manual monitoring of the entire property is difficult, if not impossible.
- High value items
Working farms present a wealth of high value items to criminals with the means to traffic in stolen goods through established black market networks. Heavy machinery can be sold for a high price overseas, while livestock can also generate a large profit margin for criminal enterprise. Such activities are influenced by both general international politics and border policies, and by domestic economic fluctuations. With the presence of high value items on working farms widely known, it is also the ideal target for opportunistic criminals.
- Public access footpaths
Most rural land in the U.K includes a public right of way of some kind – whether that is a byway, footpath, or bridleway. While the priority of the farmer is always crops and livestock, it is also the legal responsibility of the landowner to maintain and ensure access to these public rights of way. This is essentially the government-mandated compromise between the farming industry and the general public, but remains a point of conflict. Public rights of way mean that working farmland is even more difficult to secure against criminal damage and activity and, indeed, invites the inadvertent damage caused by those unfamiliar with agricultural methods and needs.
Agricultural crime is also influenced by social and economic factors that are constantly changing. For example, as 2020 progressed and the Coronavirus pandemic caused increased job insecurity and unemployment in the U.K, working farms saw a significant increase in instances of livestock rustling. The theft of sheep and lambs increased by almost 15%. At the same time, with the first national lockdown leading to more people seeking opportunities to exercise through walking in the countryside, farmers also reported both a sharp spike in members of the public accessing farmland, and in dog attacks on livestock.
The Private Investigation solution
In the public consciousness, the services of Private Investigators may be more associated with urban environments, but the capabilities of such organisations means that they regularly achieve success with regard to agricultural crime, too. This is because experienced, accredited Private Investigators are highly skilled in the area of surveillance, and it is the cutting edge technology and proven strategies of this approach that provide both deterrence and actionable evidence in defence of working U.K farms.
As with all types of crime, prevention is better than dealing with the cost of offences committed against your business, which is also your home. You could get a guard dog, and install signs announcing its presence. You could install CCTV along with signs announcing the presence of that, too. You could wire your buildings with alarms. All of these common-sense steps can help to reduce the likelihood of crimes against your working farm but, in practice, they lack the cohesive security strategy required to be truly effective.
Private Investigation firms, such as OpSec Solutions, can provide a bespoke whole-farm security approach that delivers both deterrence, and actionable, court admissible evidence for any future prosecution. This is important because criminal activity in the U.K is currently being influenced by both the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and the impact of Brexit, so your farm business may be targeted by more than one criminal enterprise, or may be damaged by more than one opportunistic offender.
Security surveillance strategies that can be deployed by Private Investigators in defence of your farm business include:
- Static surveillance – Monitoring a particular area of your property where you suspect damage, trespass, or other criminal behaviour to occur can provide actionable evidence for prosecution. This surveillance is covert in nature, with operatives documenting activity with photographic and video evidence, as well as vehicle details, timings, and other observations. This evidence is compiled into a full report that is admissible in court.
- Vehicle tracking – Your farm vehicles are high value target items. Tracking their activity with the state-of-the-art GPS tracking systems used by Private Investigators can not only assist with post-theft retrieval, but can also identify instances of employee collusion with criminal activity. Where an employee is suspected of assisting criminal enterprise with access to high value farm machinery, GPS vehicle tracking can help prove any meetings or reconnaissance taking place.
- Electronic surveillance – By legally accessing video and audio recordings, computer activity, and business phone records, Private Investigators can track activity throughout your site and help to protect your property from criminal activity.
- Mobile surveillance – Where a pattern of criminal activity is occurring, such as livestock rustling or fly tipping, mobile surveillance can help to catch the culprits by tracking their location. In addition to documenting the criminal activity on site, mobile surveillance operatives can track those responsible – providing further court admissible evidence to accurately identify and prosecute them.
With OpSec Solutions, these security surveillance strategies are entirely customisable, which means that operatives will tailor their approach to the needs of your operation. Whether your business is solely agricultural, or includes farm shops, accommodation, or event venues, these strategies can resolve your existing security issues while providing a deterrent against further offences. With full accreditation from the UK Professional Investigators Network, the Institute of Professional Investigators, and the Association of British Investigators, the fully trained expert team at OpSec Solutions can provide everything you need to protect your working farm against agricultural crime. Call today to arrange your consultation.